Posts Tagged ‘multinationals’

Ethics sold here

March 19, 2010

So my friend’s friend with the tea business, somehow hit the jackpot and her business shot off. Now she is this big time importer of exotic organic teas, which she boasts are full of flavor and not that watered down stuff you get from those other guys. Her slogan is “real teas don’t tease”…..corny, but it seems to be working out for her. How did she do that so quickly you say? To that I say what my daughter says..”lets pretend”.

So, like I said, she’s big now,her company even has its own corporate culture (CC). That’s when you know you’re in the big leagues, you have your own corporate culture. She’s expanding pretty quickly so she decides to buy out her biggest foeign supplier. All in all the process went pretty smoothly. She is now officially a MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION (remember, we’re pretending here), or an MC if you will.

She sends some of her managers to checkout the new operations, but they return with some ticklish issues…. the MC could have some problems with the CC. Seems like they don’t do things quite the same way they’re done at HQ. Terms like “standardization”, “positive relationships with external providers”, “compliance with best practices”,and “operating within legal and regulatory” parameters started to be used. The new guys don’t quite interpret these ideas in the same manner as their foreign counterparts. Hmmm…tricky.

This is not a new issue, neither is it uncommon. Thing is, there is no one right answer to how we should approach these situations and we generally end up with more questions than answers. One school of thought is that we just turn a blind eye, after all they’re pretty much doing what they were doing all along anyway and we were fine with it. Yeah you were fine with it because although you may have suspected things were not as “transparent” as you would like you were not sure. In cases like that, there is nothing as comforting as the security of uncertainty.

Another position is that we insist on strict enforcement of our company’s ethical position. After all, we have awards and stuff. We’re super ethical, we know how to do this. While this is laudable, all it serves to do is aggravate the “new people” and removes cultural considerations from the ethical argument. Ethics and ethical behavior are as much a function of the cultural environment as they are a function of company policy.

Then you have ex-CIA types who want to mount some sort of clandestine operation. Strategically select some of the new managers. Bring them back to HQ. Wine then and dine them. Let them see how it could be worth their while if they could adopt the “new ways” and take them back to their own country and spread the new gospel. In other words lets bribe a few and get them to go back and deceive the others into thinking that this is the way to go. Hmmmm…now that’s ethical.

The way I see it, there really is no easy way around the whole mess. If we are truthful and try to be objective, we’ll admit that there are some thinks we can’t paint with the broad brush of globalisation. Like politics, there are some aspects that are really all local. Ethics and ethical behaviour are ideals that we may never achieve for the simple fact that in order to get greater “buy in” we have to compromise, and when it comes to being truly ethical, there is no room for that. Looks like we’ll just have to settle for being ethical……….ish.

Fall from grace?

March 10, 2010

Within the past couple months, we’ve witnessed the beginnings of what could be the demise of a once great company. This company, for much of recent history has dominated its industry and was considerd the gold standard in its field. If you wanted to learn how to make your processes more efficient, these were the people you went to. If you wanted to figure out how to get employee “buy in”, and create real “company men”, these were the folks you studied. If you wanted to understand how to live by principles and build those principles into the very fiber of your product, these were the people you learned from.

For a long time, we would go to places where their products were sold,put our money down, and leave with a sense of accomplishment that we were able to purchase something that has been winning awards ever since we could remember. For the most part, this purchase would not necessarily make us super popular, but when people saw it, and realized we owned it,our reliablity index went up. A pseudo halo effect kicked in. The product’s reliability was legendary so obviously anyone who owned one must also be a reliable person.

We also chose this particular product, because it had a reputation for durabibilty. We’ll be putting this in our will, that’s for sure. No fly by night false pretenders for us. No sir, we’ve got the real deal. Now we could add our two cents when the older heads start telling their tales of how long they’ve owned theirs, ” I tell you I’ve had mine for 25 years, my kids would not be born if it wasn’t for that”. (ummmm….ok)

We bought this product because it was safe, we did not have to concern oursleves, when we used them with our kids, our parents, our grandparents, our pets. This was a safe product. We made a good decision, it was a fine choice…….we did the right thing.

We bought it too, because there was an old world mystique about them. “Those guys know what they’re doing. They’re not flashy. They’re………traditional. Some of these other guys could learn a thing or two from them”.

Then something strange happened. The once reliable products began to fail. We, however, continued merrily on our way, mostly because the majority of us were not aware of these chinks in the armour of our champion. It is amazing that in these days of instant news, and youtube and whatnot, that we were able to be kept in the dark for so long.

When the company saw that they simply could not suppress the goings on anymore, they took the next step down the slippery slope….they trivialized the matter. They blamed the problem on what amounts to a fashion accessory. This worked for a minute. It worked because we were willing to defend them. We believed in them. They care about us.If they say the fashion accessory was the cause, then that was the cause. Take the accessory and throw it away. “Away with you, how dare you try to get between me and my….”

When that didn’t work, they tried to pass the blame. They tried to say it was one of their suppliers. Supplier guy says “Hell no”. Don’t blame me. You’ve been having these issues before I even got here. (Kinda like the woman who tries to convince her boyfriend that the child really is his; “baby I know its only been three months but he really is yours, look at his eyes”…..no way lady, that happened before I got here)

Of course, like any cover up (great or otherwise), there’s usually a fan involved that is used to blow all the stuff away. Eventually though the bad stuff piles up, it gets to be too much, it starts blowing back, and it …well……….it hits the fan.

Now the company is in a real mess (a real monkey pants like my mother used to say). Turns out that, not only did they know about it, not only did they immediately comprehend the seriousness of the issue, but they chose to trample on those principles we came to respect,and went the route of saving money telling us to get rid of the fashion accessory rather than tackle the problem head on.

Of course we found out (we always find out, why don’t they realize that…if you’re going to write stuff down and create powerpoint slides and stuff, we will find out) and in our finding out, their credibility (and perhaps the entire company)was not merely tarnished, it was destroyed (at least as far as I am concerned).

Now it seems like every other day we hear about their products failing. I am pretty sure that some of these “failures” are people trying to cash in on the company’s misfortunes, since no matter what their investigations find, we won’t believe it to be anything other than product failure. They made their bed now they get lie in it.

Its a pity though because while we can hope that this will birth some kind of a conscience in the industry as a whole, I suspect not. More likely than not they will use this as a way to somehow get more money out of us. If they had done the right thing in the first place, they would not be at this point now.

I can’t be too worried about that at the moment though. These days I’m focused on not overtaking a Prius when I see one. Who knows when it will decide to go all Knight Rider on me…….


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